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Managing Holiday Stress: Families + Holidays Do Not Always = Warm and Fuzzy Times


Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT Updated: Nov 24th 2010

Most of us hope for magical holidays, the kind like in that famous Norman Rockwell painting. In that picture, everyone is smiling broadly, appears to really like each other; and we imagine that the conversation and relationships are loving, easy and nurturing. Unfortunately and realistically, however; for most of us, that is just not the case in our own families.
 
Family tensions, stress and differences affect celebrations and make holiday gatherings difficult in many families. Relatives that you do not see often or know well, in-laws that you may not particularly care for, and changes in families because of separation, divorce or new partners can lead to unease and difficult times.

Pre-planning can help. “Forewarned is forearmed“, as the old saying goes.

Think ahead about the gatherings and imagine how they may go. Visualize the “best case scenarios” and the “worse case scenarios”. Set realistic expectations for them. Talk, plan and strategize with those you love most about how to help and support each other if things get difficult.

Here are a few other suggestions to consider as you plan for family holiday events.

Are you in charge of hosting or planning the event?

If you are the one who is in charge, you can have some control over the situation. Here are some ideas to make the experience the best that it can be.

1. Take leadership before and during the event and set a positive tone.
  • *Plan some kind of an activity or conversation starters.
  • *Gather old family photos and get people to share stories. Keep the conversation light and find ways to reminisce about happy times.
  • *Interview the oldest generation about their childhood memories.
  • *Play a family trivia game.
  • *Be creative as you think up ways to keep the conversation headed in a good direction.
  • *We plan to turn our old videos to dvds for each family and watch a little old time television. We hope that all of the generations will get a smile from some of the clips of our childhood.

  • 2. Brush up on your own communication and conflict resolution skills. Find ways to keep your own cool. Learn some words and phrases to use that might ease tension. You will have to think of ones that fit your specific family situation and might include something like:
  • We are all different in our ideas. Let’s not try to convince each other to change his or her thinking on this special day. We only see each other a few times a year. Let’s create good memories and appreciate what we do have in common and like about each other.” Then quickly offer a new idea for the conversation.

  • 3. Enlist a few other trusted relatives as your aides to keep the conversation flowing in a good direction and deflect tension and stress.

  • 4. Remember, when people talk about themselves, they generally feel appreciated and this might help them to be more positive with others. Spend time, or get one of your co-conspirators to spend time, with those relatives who might be more critical or difficult. Help them to feel special by showing interest in what is going on with them and in their life.

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Alone for Thanksgiving, Alone for Christmas


By John M Grohol PsyD

The holidays are upon us once again, and for many, it’s a time of the year they spend alone. There are many reasons this occurs, whether it be because we can’t afford to go home, or we have no “home” to travel to. Sometimes we just find ourselves alone for the holidays.

I’ve been alone for Thanksgiving, and I’ve been alone for Christmas. Sure, it’s easy to fall into a funk and begin to feel sorry for yourself and your situation. Sometimes it was by choice, and other times it wasn’t. In any case, when I was alone for Thanksgiving, I found a way to make the most of my situation and looked at it with from a very short-term perspective — I may be alone this year, but who knows what will happen by next year.

It’s also a great time to do something completely different and go outside of your comfort zone or shell of security. If you’ve never volunteered at a food bank or kitchen, give it a try. Gather together a few fellow co-worked or friends you think are also going to be alone for the holidays and throw your own little holiday pot-luck dinner. Sometimes the plans made at the last minute can be the most fun and exciting.

 

One year when I was alone for the holidays, I spent a day helping out at a local food bank. It wasn’t something I ordinarily do, and I’m always a little nervous going into a situation that I’ve never been in before. But it was great — it took my mind off of being alone for the day. It helps that I often feel at my best when I’m doing something, anything. I like to help others, too, so this was the best of both worlds for me.

Other people might not enjoy volunteering, and I understand that. So here are 10 other suggestions you can try if you’re alone for Thanksgiving or Christmas. And if none of those things float your boat, well, here are even more suggestions on how to make the holidays a little less lonely. Remember, you can be alone for the holidays and not have to feel lonely.

And if you feel like you’re missing out on the ideal holiday Hallmark scene, it helps to be brought back to reality. For most families, holidays are often a time of stress combined with a time of togetherness. It’s not all flowers and sunshine, and some people absolutely dread getting together with their family because of family expectations of “togetherness.”

That’s part of the problem — this sense of “togetherness” comes part and parcel with the holidays. As psychologist Dr. Elaine Rodino noted in this article about coping with the holidays, “There’s so much hype for this wonderful time of togetherness, that it accentuates the feeling of being alone and disconnected.”

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Common Holiday Stressors for Families in Recovery and How to Manage Them


Peggy Ferguson, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 24th 2010

Most people and most families experience increased stress around the holidays. For families where there is addiction and/or where there is addiction recovery, holiday get-togethers can be especially difficult. Active addiction carries its own trauma in family holidays, with acting out, self-perpetuating conflicts, and self-imposed or family-imposed exile of the addict from the family.

Family members erroneously believe that once the drinking/drugging stops, that holidays will be smooth sailing from then on. Recovery in the family, especially early recovery, has its own stressors. Below are common examples of stressors that families in early recovery experience: 

  • *When parts of the family know about the recovery of one its members and others do not, it can create an underlying tension and anxiety among some family members.

  • *While the non-addicted spouse has forgiven the alcoholic/addict, the in-laws perhaps have not. The newly recovering person may not even be welcome in the in-laws’ home.

  • *An addict in early recovery is often faced with the unpleasant decision of whether to attend family gatherings where the rest of the family is still drinking or using.

  • *People in recovery may operate from an emotional position of guilt and shame, and may want to make up for previous inappropriate behavior through excessive spending.

  • *The recovering person and his/her family members may feel enough pressure to engage in other seasonal activities which takes them away from routine recovery activities.

  • *One or both sides of the family may feel more entitled because of what they have been through, while both sides of the family are demanding that the holidays be spent with them.

  • *Recovering people often find themselves sucked into old interaction patterns in their families of origin, and discover that they are behaving in ways that they have tried hard to change.

  • *Many addicted people also have underlying anxiety disorders, especially social anxiety. Large gatherings or travel can be especially difficult for people with anxiety problems.

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